This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.
These records document the history of the Moonwatch Division and the volunteer Flight Officer Network. They include the outgoing correspondence of Albert Werner, 1968-1975; general correspondence of the Moonwatch Division, 1957-1975; Moonwatch station files, 1956-1975, including correspondence and other data from American and foreign Moonwatch teams; Moonwatch administrative files, 1956-1975; Moonwatch project files, 1962-1973, including correspondence and reports on various comets, satellites, and other projects assigned to Moonwatch to track; the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Herbert E. Roth, 1966-1975; general correspondence of the VFON, 1969-1975; VFON airline files, 1963-1975, containing correspondence and sighting reports from member airlines; VFON administrative files, 1963-1975; Moonwatch and VFON newsletters and bulletins, 1956-1975; and a small number of slides, tapes, and movies.
The Moonwatch Division of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was created in 1956 as part of the Satellite Tracking Program established to track and photograph the artificial earth satellites to be launched during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958. The surprise launch of Sputnik in 1957 generated much enthusiasm for the satellite program. Amateur astronomers, often supported by local businesses and schools, formed groups of volunteers who manned rows of telescopes searching for satellites. The Moonwatch Division directed and instructed the observers, loaned them equipment, and tabulated the data collected. Scientists were named in other parts of the world to help establish Moonwatch teams in many foreign countries. Gradually many "teams" came to be composed of a single observer, highly skilled in satellite tracking and often affiliated with a local observatory or university. Until its termination in 1975, the Moonwatch Division coordinated this network of volunteers and amassed a total of nearly 400,000 observations of satellites. Directors of the Division included Armand N. Spitz, 1956-1957; Leon Campbell, Jr., 1957-1962; Richard C. Vanderburgh, 1962-1964; William P. Hirst, 1964-1968; and Albert Werner, 1968-1975.
The Volunteer Flight Officer Network (VFON) was established in 1963 by Denver Moonwatch team leader Herbert E. Roth to collect eyewitness reports of satellites and meteor sightings from airline pilots and other flight personnel. Roth was employed by United Air Lines, which agreed to support the project by providing printing and mailing funds. In 1965 the VFON became affiliated with Moonwatch, which advised Roth and assumed a part of the mailing expenses. In 1969 Moonwatch assumed complete administrative control of the VFON under a contract with the United States Air Force. Before its termination in 1975, the VFON had grown to include the employees of 118 airlines in 57 countries and had collected approximately 4200 observations. Roth was its sole director.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 255, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Moonwatch Division, Records
Smithsonian Institution Archives
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